Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

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Thursday, 26 June 2014

I've thanked Tesco for taking #WDDTY off its shelves

The magazine What Doctors Don't Tell You is available to purchase from their website and various other outlets throughout the UK and even abroad. It's an extremely easy magazine to get hold of, though I'm not sure why you'd want to once you understand what's in it.

It's written in an engaging narrative style and suggests that there's information out there that can help you with your health, but that doctors are keeping quiet about it - either because they don't understand it or are deliberately hiding it so that they can make more money from mainstream treatments. There's a whiff of  conspiracy theory about it but what particularly annoys me is the way it handles evidence and information.

If, when working as a science info officer at a medical charity, I'd taken the same attitude to evidence that some of the magazine's content has done I'd expect colleagues and my boss to have had a quiet word. It's all too easy to come across Medline abstracts that agree with your ideas but "in science we have to count the misses as well as the hits"(1) and you need to consider a wider range of evidence and put things in context.

It's extremely unusual that all the information you need to make sense of a study / paper can be found from just reading it (even in full) - you may need some prior knowledge about the health condition, or study design, to know how much weight to give it. You may need to read other documents to find out more, and ask people for their thoughts (you might have missed something). Critical appraisal can be a fun and collaborative thing.

There have been a number of things in the magazine that seem to be very wrong (and on one notable occasion the author of at least one study(2) has stated that the magazine has drawn incorrect conclusions about the work). We all make mistakes and since I work in the area of human error (@chi_med) I can't be too snooty about that, however there seems to be an absence of 'errata'(3) (the bit where publishers print what was previously wrong and what the corrected version should say).

Following a long exchange of emails and tweets asking several supermarkets to stop selling it Tesco has apparently soft-announced (by contacting complainants rather than press releasing anything, I believe) that it will no longer be stocking the magazine. Hooray.

I was quick enough to bleat so have sent them a thank you note, which is below.


Good evening

I'm delighted to learn that you've decided to stop stocking the magazine What Doctors Don't Tell You. It's full of silly ideas mixed in with some sensible stuff (in my opinion this makes it all the worse as it cloaks itself by having just enough sense in it not to trigger too much amazement) but sadly the silly ideas are also potentially rather dangerous.

Implying that sunbathing can help manage diabetes (through increases in Vitamin D in the skin when exposed to the sun) is an odd take on the relationship between Vitamin D and glucose levels. Suggesting that homeopathy can help treat cancer is really quite bonkers.

Had they stuck to vague advice about eating your greens and made their medical disclaimer a bit more obvious I might not have taken against the magazine but a few of us have looked at it in some depth and have serious concerns with its content.
Thank you for taking it off your shelves. Now, is there any chance you might give the Daily Mail the heave-ho while you're at it ;-) They're usually OK on science but often pretty dire on health stuff.

Best wishes,

(1) I'm sure loads of people have said it but I associate it with an amusing talk by Michael Shermer.
(2) Ctrl+F / search for Sun et al
(3) Well gosh! They've only gone and corrected something. Apparently the recipe was meant to say tomahto but ended up saying tomayto so they've addressed that serious problem ;)

Note for the hard of thinking: asking a major supermarket to stop stocking a magazine has nothing at all to do with the freedom to publish or say something, which is what is generally understood by the phrase 'freedom of speech'. Or at least that's how I understand it but you're welcome to correct me, but ill-thought through comments will be deleted :)

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Comment policy: I enthusiastically welcome corrections and I entertain polite disagreement ;) Because of the nature of this blog it attracts a LOT - 5 a day at the moment - of spam comments (I write about spam practices,misleading marketing and unevidenced quackery) and so I'm more likely to post a pasted version of your comment, removing any hyperlinks.

Comments written in ALL CAPS LOCK will be deleted and I won't publish any pro-homeopathy comments, that ship has sailed I'm afraid (it's nonsense).